Sunday, February 10, 2008

There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood is writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's loose adaptation of the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair. The film chronicles the life and times of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), who transforms himself from a down-and-out silver miner raising a son on his own into a self-made oil tycoon. Plainview accomplishes this feat by going directly to the people who live above the oil and, using simple, 'shoot from the hip' language and masterful manipulation, convinces them that he and his crew are the best people to provide for them, in a timely fashion, the things they desire . With his young son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier), at his side, and used as part of the manipulations, Plainview builds a massive empire and, over time, his obsession with success and power is only eclipsed by his growing paranoia and misanthropic nature. As Plainview centers on what could easily be the greatest success of his career in the small California town of Little Boston, he is confronted by an unlikely nemesis in the form of a teenage preacher named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). It is because of Eli's brother, Paul (also portrayed by Paul Dano), that the oil man knew of the deposits in the first place, having sold Plainview the information for his own personal gain and to allow him to be free of his brother's shadow. Unfortunately for Plainview, to succeed fully and without question, he must succumb to the local church and the will of Eli, who just might be an even greater showman than Plainview. As the battle of wills intensifies and their determination to succeed increases, so too does the cost of such lifelong endeavors.

If you're a fan of intense character studies within an epic storyline taking place during historic civilization altering events, then it doesn't get any better than this. I thoroughly enjoy this type of film, when all the stops are pulled and every possible detailed is conceived and made manifest, and with this production, I'm very glad to say, I was not in any way disappointed. I think what impressed me most was how well the grand scope of the transformation that was occurring in the United States was conveyed by a relatively small number of major players. The visuals are open and grand with a feeling of deep breath expansion juxtaposed by the less evolutionary adept human element becoming more pressured, or 'squeezed', to adapt and survive while the more robust elements spread tentative wings and begin to glide. The story seems rather simple, to begin with, but as the elements unfold, it becomes obvious that similar stories have played out time and time again, and in making that statement I'm referring to technological advances that have had huge sociological and ecological impact - impact which, as a civilization, we have yet to see the true extent. However, none of the films resonance would be possible without the powerful performances of the cast in telling the story of a very driven man whose primary desire is to succeed as he nurtures his contempt for all things human, himself included.

Speaking of performances, I must note that Paul Dano is excellent as the preacher/prophet, Eli Stone. Dano is subtle in displaying his character's balance of naiveness and aspirations and I'm sure he would have received more accolades had his performance (along with everyone else's) not been overshadowed by that of Daniel Day-Lewis'. Even though the only other best actor Oscar nominee I've seen is Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises, I can honestly say I'd be extremely surprised if anyone, even those who deserved a nomination but didn't receive one, put forth a performance that remotely comes close to what Day-Lewis achieves. Mortensen was exceptional (as I noted when I wrote about the film) and I'm not trying to take anything away from what he put into his character, however, there is an "effortless perfection" in the character of Daniel Plainview and Day-Lewis is so believable, so abhorrent and yet, so captivating that his performance is nothing short of mesmerizing. I've seen a lot of good performances over the past year, and I've written about all of them (I think), but Day-Lewis' performance easily stands above them all, but it's impossible for me to adequately convey how impressive and hypnotic his performance really is. In other words, I'm fairly confident in regards to who'll be going home with another little 'golden guy' on February 24th.


Chris said...

I KNEW I could count on you to have seen this movie ;>) I was in London last weekend when the friend I was staying with had purchased a bootleg copy of this from an illegal immigrant in a pub. He did this out of guilt as the story goes the girl had to sell so many copies per day to pay off her debt for getting smuggled into the country.

I looked at him and said, and you're sure that wasn't a scam line just to guilt you into the purchase??

Anyway, regardless we sat down and watched this horrid copy of the movie. I'm sure there were two scenes cut due to bathroom breaks and then the last 45 min of the movie was no where to be seen.

Ended up reading what we missed on Wikipedia. I will agree Daniel Day Lewis did put in a very strong performance but I found the story line to get a bit more bizare as the movie progressed. I knew things weren't going to end well but reading that Eli gets blugend to death by a bowling pin seems a little ridiculous, no?

Juno - fabulous dialogue, great soundtrack. See it if you haven't already. Oh and it was filmed in Vancouver so it was nostalgic for me.

John Taylor said...

hi chris - sorry you had to see a crappy copy of the flick - that's one of the many problems with bootleg movies. And you're right - things did get more and more odd as the movie progressed, but I think that was in conjunction with how the Plainview character became more twisted as time passed. The end was, well, what it was - maybe ridiculous but Plainview used what was available to him - it just happened to be a bowling pin, and, anyway, without the ending, there wouldn't have been any blood. Now that's funny.

As for Juno - I really want to see it - other movies occupied me at the theater so now, I'll wait for the disc - I have heard excellent things about it and, out of the films nominated for best picture Oscar, it's the only one I haven't seen. I finally saw Michael Clayton and, so far, I still think Atonement was my favorite.

By the way - been meaning to tell you - thinks for the Hot Fuzz recommendation - I've watched it like four times.